scripture and theology pt.2: What is the Bible?

A Disturbing Point
So, after the last post, here you may be wondering some things about the Bible. Specifically, what is it? Seems like an important question doesn't it? Truth is, it's probably the starting point for most protestants in the United States, certainly evangelicals. So let's think for a moment about what Scripture is and is not.

Most alarmingly, scripture is not the Word of God.

Wait! Wait! Keep reading! I love scripture, it is our authoritative text! Infallible, and trustworthy! It is the testimony of God's interaction with his people (His Word come to us!) throughout the ages. But it's an important distinction, though perhaps alarming. In so many protestant churches in the US, the Bible is called the Word of God, but that's not what scripture says about itself. John 1 calls Jesus the Word of God, not the Bible.
1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
The reason this is an important distinction: a lot of evangelicals think that faith begins and ends with the Bible, but we must remember that faith comes from and is in Jesus, not scripture. Sometimes we treat it like a book of magic formulas and incantations, instead of the confirmed witness to the truth of God's work in the world saved through Christ. (And besides, the "Word" is used in a number of different ways in scripture. I'm being somewhat rhetorical)

If you were to ask what God's truest message to us is, I would say Jesus, in whom "the fullness of deity dwells," not scripture. Scripture is not God, Jesus is, and I believe that scripture needs the Spirit of Christ to be authentic, but Christ does not need scripture. Of course that's hypothetical gobbledygook just to make a point. As it stands, the Spirit has confirmed the testimony of scripture to what God has said.

So what difference does it make to call the Bible the witness to God's Word instead of the Word itself? The name or language we use is often just habit, so I'm not trying to make a crazy internet argument about using the right name or going to hell. There's plenty of that available on the web, but we do need to clear in our thinking, if not our speech, so there are 2 points to make:
1. Scripture makes clear that Jesus is the Word of God, and the Greek tropes it plays upon are are significant- Jesus, not scripture, is the organizing, creative force in the universe, and is the only person we worship. The Bible is not part of the Godhead, but it does record how God has come to us.
2. This helps us understand the human nature of the Bible: it isn't dictated straight from the hand of God (though it records some parts that are), it is the very human recollection and description of those interactions with a Holy God. That creates a certain amount of space between the text and what God actually says.
The Space Between
It is this space that is concerning to people, and the source of much debate. It is the space between the what happened and what the author recorded that allows us to wonder how much of the author is mixed up in the recording. The space may be disconcerting - that the Bible is not some neutral, abstracted philosophical list of magic rules. it actually affirms the following:
God's word comes to people, warts and all. Perfect people are not the recipients of God's message. The Word of the Lord could even come (Your diary wouldn't be scripture, btw., but that's another post.)

The space is some of the reason people can have divergent opinions about different passages, too, I think. Or perhaps why God speaks new things to us through the same passages over time. Of course there is a clear central message in the text that can be agreed upon, but beyond the obvious tenets (Jesus died for your sins) agreement on passages drops off precipitously.

For protestants, its important to know , too, that church history provides boundaries for interpretation. If you want to know what the church has believed the message of scripture is - what the Word of God that it records is, you can look at the creeds. So wear does that leave our discussion of scripture? =Well, it remains to be discussed how to interpret, and what the Bible's relationship to theology is. But, as I am on vacation, who knows what you're going to get... :)


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